Why You Should Force Your Employees to Read Books

This topic is a bit controversial, but it’s something that I believe and stand by. Why? Because I’m a fan of reading, for one, but also because I have personally seen this work as a tool in the world of work.

  • I’ve used books within performance discussions, both positive (succession/development oriented) and negative (performance improvement/problem-focused) with varying degrees of results.
  • I have helped to establish a library for employees to help them have access to some of the books that mattered not only to our industry, but also to the type of culture we wanted to have.
  • I have read books that have made me better at work in a variety of ways. Knowledge really is powerful stuff.

Last week I was quoted in the Chicago Tribune talking about this very topic. The article is a good one and worth a read. Here’s a snipped:

It dawned on me recently that reading is not an activity that’s often associated with work. It’s more of a leisure-time endeavor, which is fine — but if it’s so darn good for us to read, why shouldn’t reading be a part of the working world?

I’m not talking about co-workers starting a book club, but rather companies encouraging all employees to read certain books. Maybe even launching discussions about those books or using them to drive home aspects of the company’s culture.

“I think it really applies to the workplace and the kind of environments we want to create,” said Ben Eubanks, a human resources analyst at Brandon Hall Group and an advocate for workplace reading. “One of the things that I like best is when you read it and I read it, and then we get together and talk about it. The discussion that happens afterward. If you’re sitting in a PowerPoint presentation, I’m telling you things and you’re taking things in but there’s really no discussion.”

He thinks reading should be an expected part of any employee’s performance. It could range from books that management picks for all workers to read — ones that get at the company’s core philosophies — to books that managers suggest for specific employees, with an eye toward helping make the employee better.

“I’ve worked with managers in the past to assign them a book that we think will help them learn the things they need to learn or develop a skill they’re not being exposed to,” Eubanks said. “People who are successful are often crazy about reading. They make time for that because they understand how important it is, and it’s kind of like a secret weapon.”

Instant replay

Let’s replay that last part again:

People who are successful are often crazy about reading. They make time for that because they understand how important it is, and it’s kind of like a secret weapon.

Simply put, leaders read. And people at all levels of our organizations can be extraordinary leaders, if we help give them the keys to learn and grow.

I can’t determine causation without some hefty research, so I can’t speak to whether reading makes us successful, or successful people naturally read more. What I can say is that there is correlation there and we can certainly attempt to exploit that for the betterment of our employees and their families.

The big picture

As I have shared numerous times in the past, reading is something I believe we all could stand to do more of. If you’re trying to read a book per week, learn how to set up a structured reading program within your company, or set up a book club in your local area to connect with other folks who want to get smarter, those are all worthwhile goals.

That’s why I have published dozens of book reviews over the years. That’s why I continue to accept the ridiculous number of pitches from publishers trying to get me to read and review books about HR, leadership, talent, learning, etc. I want to get better, but I also want to share with you so you can get better, too.

I can still remember the first book review I ever did. As I read The Pursuit of Something Better something changed and I really saw how the ideas I picked up from the book could impact my day to day HR practices. This is powerful stuff, and if you learn only one idea from a book that you can use on a regular basis, then it’s worth your time and money to invest.

Thanks for letting me rant a bit. Some of you will take this to heart, pick up a book (maybe one I have suggested), and commit to being better at this HR thing. Others will finish reading this article and move on, making no changes to their own professional growth. I hope I’ve reached you, dear reader, as one of the former.

6 thoughts on “Why You Should Force Your Employees to Read Books

  1. Elisha

    Timing couldn’t be better for me to see this. I am sitting here writing a levels plan for my staff and want to include books they need to read as part of advancing to the next level. The question I now come to is, if I require it, do I have to pay them for the time it takes to read it? These are hourly employees.

    1. Ben Post author

      @Elisha Good question! So the obvious rule is that you have to pay them for any time worked, and if you require it, then there would need to be payment for that. I’d look at how long you think the book will realistically take and budget that in. For example, reading XYZ book would take an average of 2 hours to read and you’ll have 20 employees read it, so you would need to budget the average pay rate for 2 hours across 20 employees for that book. It definitely has more possible impacts than assigning it to a salaried employee, but I think you’re asking the right questions! You are looking at how to say “yes,” now how to say “no.” :-)

  2. Elisha

    I may be working into a grey area. I am building a plan where it says if you want to stay at level one and earn $X per hour for ever you are totally welcome to do that. If you want to grow professionally, get a promotion and a raise, here is a list of resources you can read, webinars you can attend, or DVDs you can watch. I run a dog training center and even with all the training I can give, there is so much more to learn about dogs.

    1. Ben Post author

      @Elisha True, but could your team learn more about leadership, customer service, smarter marketing (imagine if all of your team members were marketing you to their friends, family, and networks without being pushy…)? There are some good additional ideas you could have them learn, and you could always cap it. For instance, read 1 book and provide a report back and get a $x raise. Read 2 books… etc. all the way up to 5 books or whatever top level you decide.

  3. HR Wannabe

    Hi Ben. I’m a week new here-an aspiring HR wanna be. I still belong to the library in my neighborhood since I was 7 (which was decades ago) :-) plus I’m a member of the library near my employer (which is in another county).

    I just checked out about 5 HR books. My goal is to get an idea of the HR industry in general, various topics, etc. My BA wasn’t in HR and because I’ve been out of undergrad for over 20 years, I have to at least get a graduate certificate or masters in order to compete (already started that process).

    I live in a major metropolitan area and most HR positions (not even talking about supervisory or management) require either an undergrad in HR, AND 2-3 years experience and/or that entry level HR certification (which is a catch 22 because one of their prerequisites are:

    A minimum of 1 year of experience in a professional-level HR position with a Master’s degree or higher, OR
    A minimum of 2 years of experience in a professional-level HR position with a Bachelor’s degree, OR
    A minimum of 4 years of experience in a professional-level HR position with a high school diploma

    (Copied from their site). I’m in the process of revising my resume to get those transferable skills noticed.

    Anyway, I believe books will help. My employer has never encouraged me or us personally to read books so I’ve never waited on them.

    Thanks so much Ben!

  4. Judy

    I am enjoying your blog, even though I don’t work directly in HR. Thanks for all the great advice and suggestions. Just wanted to drop a quick note that on seeing the “Be Bodacious” book in your suggested list of reads, I was intrigued by the title (and I love books on leadership) so I bought a copy. I’m about halfway through the book and I have to say . . . excellent suggestion!

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